Should frontier wars be commemorated in the War Memorial?

File:Menin Gate at midnight (Will Longstaff).jpg

Will Longstaff's thoroughly spooky and fabulous Menin Gate at Midnight. If you haven't seen it in the AWM, go now, right now!

A very balanced and interesting article on the subject, even if it could have been improved IMO if it had been pruned back by 20% or so in length.

THE AWM is the behemoth of Australian public history, on a quite different plane from Hyde Park or any number of parks, memorials, local museums and the like. From its initial focus on the sacrifices of Australian forces during the first world war the AWM has expanded to take in the experience of other combatants and of civilians in wars and war-like operations in which Australians have been on active service, including peace-keeping. . . . . It is at once a research institute, a publisher, a museum, a memorial and a place of commemoration. It makes corporeal our loss, sacrifice and valour in war and is therefore central to the central component of our national identity. It is a sacred place. To propose, therefore, as many historians have done, that it should include in its embrace the wars of the frontier is to run risks up to and including the charge of sacrilege.

That proposal was first made in 1979 when a distinguished historian engaged by the AWM as a consultant suggested that it should include irregular warfare such as the Eureka Stockade, the Vietnam War (not then included in the AWM) and the frontier wars. Despite the historians conservative credentials (it was none other than Geoffrey Blainey) and his appeal to comparability, nothing happened. The idea was raised again from time to time, typically by academic historians, and most notably a decade ago two decades after Blaineys initiative by Professor Ken Inglis in the course of his remarks at the 1998 launch of his Sacred Places, an exhaustive and highly respectful study of our war memorials. Such an authority could hardly go unanswered. The AWMs director (retired Major General) Steve Gower commissioned a report from his Military History Section, which came up with the congenial conclusion that only police forces or British military units were involved in the wars, whereas the Memorials charter calls upon it to commemorate Australias military forces. This view the Council promptly endorsed.

Behind the scenes, however, disagreement simmered, with the AWMs director on one side, its principal historian, Dr Peter Stanley, on the other. Eventually the disagreement turned into a public spat, unimportant in its detail but revealing in its tone. . . .

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John Greenfield
John Greenfield
12 years ago

Why do some people bang on about this 40/60,0000 aboriginal history? Are they suggesting that Captain Cook does not have 40/60,000 year old ancestors? The bald reality, which will pain the Blackarm Bandits to no end, is that Captain Cook’s ancestors progressed and built civilisation, while the aborigines went nowhere.

Sure, Jared Diamond and others explain why in the 18th century the most advanced expression of humanity rubbed up against the most primitive, but to talk about it in military terms is preposterous. The British built Australia without them ever being at war domestically. Of course this was the case. That is what human civilisational progress is about.

If people want to “celebrate” eating witchety grubs, running around in loin cloths with spears, and dying at age 30, knock yourself out. But don’t dumb down our military memorials with your dystopian posing.

Bruce Cameron
Bruce Cameron
7 years ago

Dr Nelson has stated that “The [Australian War] Memorial exists to honour the service and sacrifice of all Australians deployed on military and peacekeeping operations on behalf of the nation” (letter to me, 5 May 2014).
The caveat that is omitted is: “except by indigenous Australians deployed on operations to defend their homeland against a colonial invader”.
As a serviceman who been deployed overseas to defend his country, I tremble at the thought of defending my shore against an enemy with total superiority in firepower. The indigenous Australians who did this in defence of their families and their country, have my unreserved respect.
My most compelling wish is that I could stand next to their descendants on 25 April 2015 and share our mutual commitment, to the death, for our country.
Bruce Cameron MC